When an ex-employee keeps contacting your staff, should you confront him or just let it go?
Dear Evil HR Lady,
I recently let an employee go at the three month evaluation time. After he was fired, he began emailing one of our employees who has a side business. The emails kept coming. Our employee let us know right away that it made him uncomfortable. The employee finally found a way to back out of the exchange, but it made me think about others he may be contacting. What are the rules around a company's clients once you no longer work for that organization? He is using his personal email account and we asked him to forward communication he had with one of our clients, but what can I do about the others?
He only worked for us for three months but his departure has been stressful and he's been somewhat passive-aggressive.
--Annoyed Former Boss
First, let's take a look at this from his viewpoint. He was fired and undoubtedly needs a new job. What he's doing, from his viewpoint, is called networking. All the career experts out there are telling people that the best way to find a new job is through the people you know. He knows the people at your office and therefore, he's contacting them.
He's also annoying. And he's not a good worker (or a good fit for your office). So here's the thing: He will burn out and go away.
And if he doesn't (because, hey, it does happen), your employees will tell him to go away, eventually. Which is precisely what happened the the first person he contacted. He found a way to extricate himself from the situation. Why? Because he's an adult and adults can handle telling someone: "Thanks, but no thanks."
If you start panicking and announcing to your staff that "Joe may contact you. Do not respond! Do not go to lunch with him! Do not introduce him to our clients!" your employees will start to believe that you are the crazy one.
You do not want this.
Now, if he starts using confidential information to contact your clients, or starts slandering your company, then that is a different issue altogether. You can take him to court to stop him from using information that he obtained while working for you. But even that, except in extreme cases, will cost you more money and more stress than it will just allowing this to blow over.
And sometimes information that people think is confidential actually isn't. For instance, if your website proudly lists your clients, you can't say, "Hey, he took a client list when he left!"
If he had been a long term employee, beloved by your customers, his continued contact might be a bigger problem. But, it's likely that your customers are annoyed by this as well and understand perfectly why you fired him.
And, if the reason for firing wasn't that he was a horrible person, but rather that he was just a bad fit for your office, you may wish to steer him towards something that he'd be good at. You don't, of course, have to do this; it's certainly above and beyond the call of duty. But, doing a good deed now and then keeps everyone happy. Plus, once he has a job, he'll stop trying to network with your staff.
Have a problem employee or a people management question? Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.